Stanford Medicine Unplugged (formerly SMS Unplugged) is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.
Ever since I was little, people asked me if I would become a doctor like my dad. I wasn't sure until I shadowed a doctor my freshman year of college. As soon as that happened, I started looking for guidance on how to choose between my many interests so that I could both be true to myself and become the best candidate for medical school that I could be.
I was lucky to have many great mentors who took the time to thoughtfully answer my questions, and now I’d like to pay it forward. For anyone in the early stages of premed that wants advice, here are my thoughts on certain areas.
- Medical schools will likely want to see evidence that you'll be able to keep up with the academic rigor of their program. This sounds obvious, but the way that you can demonstrate this is to do well in your classes as an undergraduate.
- Don't take more classes than you can master. There are many interesting courses available in college but you need to be strategic about giving yourself the time to excel in your classes and giving yourself time to just be.
- Give yourself time to see what extracurriculars you gravitate towards naturally. When you find them, pick one or two and invest time and energy in them. Take them in interesting, unique directions:
- If research is your thing, then ask interesting questions. Schedule time every few months to actually speak with the faculty overseeing your research.
- If volunteering is your thing, then be a leader in your field. Identify a need that has not been filled or an organization that inspires you and work hard on that.
- If you're an athlete, then be a leader on the field and off. Be a mentor to younger teammates.
- At the end of the day, medical schools want to see your leadership and legacy as an undergrad.
- Medicine is a hard road to walk. It's incredibly rewarding and it is special, but it requires many years of difficult training. Let yourself grow into the person you want to be during these years.
- There's no point in working ourselves to the ground in high school to go to a good college, working ourselves to the ground in college to go to a good medical school, and then working ourselves into the ground in medical school to go through a good residency program. Because then we finally become doctors at 35 years old and we don’t know what else matters to us.
- Allow yourself the time every step of the way to be a person and check in with yourself to make sure you like the person that you're becoming.
- Failure is a part of life. Every successful person I've ever met failed at something. And when they did, they used that as fuel for the fire that drove them to work harder and more strategically.
- Remember: You are worth more than any grade or any achievement.
- I got a C in an organic chemistry class freshman year. Here's what happened:
- I was bummed about it for a while and then I decided that I would take the next chemistry class and make it mine.
- I was honest with myself that I needed to take fewer classes and spend more time studying for chemistry. So I took fewer classes the next term and allocated three hours every day to study alone in the library for chemistry.
- At the end of the term, I got an email from my chemistry professor congratulating me on my improvement because I had earned an A. That was one of the best school-related moments I have had.
- When I was asked about this in medical school interviews, I talked about how when I meet an obstacle, I think strategically and work even harder to overcome it. You can too.
- When you feel disappointed in yourself about something, ask yourself how you can set yourself up for success moving forward. Life is a journey and no one is born perfect.
Natalia Birgisson is between her second and third year of medical school. She is half Icelandic, half Venezuelan and grew up moving internationally before coming to Stanford for college.
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben